DETROIT -- The Ottawa Senators are going with the "just another game" approach, even though no one really believes them.
Sure, they've already seen their former captain of 14 seasons on television wearing the uniform of the Detroit Red Wings, but they haven't seen Daniel Alfredsson wearing the winged wheel in person yet. That will change Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN) in the much-anticipated first game for Alfredsson facing the team he helped lead for 17 seasons.
"It’s weird for us to see him in a Red Wings sweater and I’m sure it’s still a little weird for him too," Jason Spezza, who replaced Alfredsson as Ottawa captain, said after the team's morning skate. "It’ll be different. It will probably be harder for him than it will be for us. We’re kind of used to playing against guys we’ve played with for a long time, so once the game starts it won’t be any different."
The Senators (3-3-2) and Red Wings (6-3-1) also will square off for the first time as Atlantic Division rivals, but that storyline has taken a backseat in media coverage, and will continue to do so until Dec. 1. That's when Alfredsson will return to Ottawa for the first time with the Red Wings.
Until then, the focus is Wednesday in the Motor City. The Senators will make an additional trip to Detroit on Nov. 23 before Alfredsson returns to Ottawa, but the immediate future is all he's thinking about at the moment.
"It’s been talked about the last few days," Alfredsson said. "So far it’s been pretty normal. I’ve thought about [the emotions] and I don’t know. We’ll start the game and see what happens. Moving the family, that was the big step. It’s all part of the process. It’s been so long with one team and now the first time facing them, I really don’t know what to expect."
Tuesday was a little more settling. He and his family welcomed Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson to their new home in the Detroit suburbs for dinner, and then Wednesday morning Alfredsson caught up with Spezza before the morning skates.
"We've spent a lot of time together, my whole career," Spezza said. "I miss having those conversations. I saw him earlier [Wednesday]. Since Day 1 he's been there for me. He's a guy that's well-versed on a lot of different topics. I miss getting into debates with him over stuff. I miss his advice. He's just a solid individual."
Yet, getting ready to play against him apparently isn't that unique to Spezza or his teammates.
"You prepare the same way," Spezza said. "It's nice to see a familiar face and catch up a little bit, but other than that I'm preparing the same way. For us it's another game. For you guys [in the media], it's a huge story to play up."
Karlsson, who lived at Alfredsson's home as a rookie, seemed as excited about getting a traditional Swedish meal out of the trip as he is to face his former captain.
"It's going to be fun," Karlsson said. "It's going to be an experience for sure and it's always fun to play in Detroit. They have a lot of fellow Swedes that you know very well and Alfie [Alfredsson] happens to be one of them."
The 40-year old Alfredsson happens to credit Karlsson for giving his own career a boost of energy as he entered his late 30s, providing a motivational spark to keep playing at a high level.
"I didn't really know him back then," Karlsson said of his rookie season. "All I can remember from my first few months there was that he is a very generous man and he's very humble about everything. He taught me some really good life lessons.”
Those lessons are relayed by other means now.
“I drive past his house every day to the rink, so it's pretty tough to know that you're not going to stop by there anymore," Karlsson said. "But I think at the same time it's not that bad. We're used to seeing guys come and go and we still keep in touch a lot. He's just a phone call away and it's not that bad.”
On Wednesday Alfredsson will be just a few strides away, wearing the uniform of a new Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division rival. Both teams claim that remains the biggest storyline regardless of potential bragging rights or unspoken personal agendas.
"If it wasn't someone like Alfie I might be concerned," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the hubbub surrounding the game. "They're going to want to play hard against us and we're going to want to play hard for Alfie so it all adds up to a pretty good competition, I would think. Alfie knows that the measure of him has nothing to do with this hockey game."
The Senators know they'll have to measure up to Detroit at some point without Alfredsson if they want to accomplish their big-picture goals in the division and Stanley Cup Playoffs. It might not be "just another game" in reality, but that's still the way they're going to approach it.
"I think this is the first time you really notice it because it's being brought up now and you're seeing him for the first time," Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson said. "We all kind of moved on from it the day it happened. We can't change it. You can sit there and sulk all you want and complain but at the end of the day it wasn't up to us. It is what happened and we have to move on. If you sit there and dwell on the past you're not going to be very good in the future."
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